matt

Put a permanent security freeze on your credit ⛄

I updated this post in September 2017 to provide tips to combat the Equifax security breach that affected 143 million US consumers.

When Anthem Blue Cross (a large provider of health insurance) got hacked in February 2015, I scrambled to figure out the best way to protect my identity and credit score.

Here’s the guide I wrote based on what I learned and implemented for myself:

1. What is a security freeze?

A security freeze (also known as a credit freeze) helps prevent the opening of new lines of credits, like a credit card or personal loan, in your name by restricting access to your credit report.

2. How do I add a security freeze?

Each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) provides a dedicated page where you can instantly place a security freeze on your credit report.

There is a small fee to add a freeze to your credit report and you'll need to pay the fee once to each of the three major credit bureaus. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from free to $10

As of September, 2018 credit freezes/un-freezes are free.

The process takes about 10 minutes to complete. You’ll receive a PIN for each that you can use to lift the freeze later on. Store your pin in a safe place, like your 1Password vault or a safety deposit box.

Here are the links to add a security freeze at each respective credit bureau (make sure to do all three).

Note: If you are asked what type of freeze to add, select “Permanant Freeze.” Permanent only means that it will remain in effect until you choose to remove the freeze, which you can do at any time.

Do not select “Fraud Alert,” as that option will only provide you with a mailed notice after a new credit inquiry has already been made on your report.

3. Do I need to do a freeze on all three credit reports? Or can I just do the one that got hacked?

You’ll need to place a security freeze on your credit report at all three of the major Credit Bureaus.

The reason behind this is that all three credit bureaus share information with each other. If you choose only to place a security freeze on one of your reports, and someone fraudulently opens a credit card against one of your other two (unprotected) credit reports, it will still get reported to the one credit bureau that you do have frozen.

4. Should I freeze anything else to be even more secure?

If you’d like, you can also freeze your Innovis (smaller credit reporting company) and ChexSystems (bank accounts) reports. Keep in mind that you’ll need to thaw these reports each time you’d like to access them.

5. How do I apply for a new credit card or loan when I have a freeze on my credit reports?

Should you want to apply for new lines of credit in the future, you can temporarily lift the freeze (say, for a 72 hour period while you apply for a new credit card, or a 30 day period while you’re applying for a mortgage).

You also maintain the ability to remove any security freeze instantly, for any reason, by visiting the same links above where you originally placed the freeze.

6. What about LifeLock and similar services?

It’s important to understand that all LifeLock could do if someone fraudulently opened a new credit card in your name is notify you after the fact.

You would still need to file a dispute and get the credit card closed and removed from your credit report. A credit freeze stops fraudulent cards and loans from ever being opened in the first place.

Credit report freezes combined with free credit monitoring from services like Credit Karma are a great alternative to the expense and dubious effectiveness of services like LifeLock.

If your parents / siblings / grandparents / SO aren’t especially tech-savvy, I’d recommend helping them get set up with security freezes.

Good luck!